By Emil Danielyan
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian assured on Monday election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that Armenian law-enforcement authorities will do their best to counter possible attempts to falsify the results of next month’s parliamentary elections.
Hovsepian told senior members of the OSCE’s observer mission in Armenia that he has formed special “working groups” led by senior prosecutors and tasked with quickly examining and reacting to reports of serious vote irregularities.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, Police Service and other law-enforcement bodies have been widely criticized, both domestically and internationally, for their failure to do so during the previous elections. There have been virtually no reported cases of government-connected individuals prosecuted for ballot box stuffing, voter intimidation and other election-related crimes so far. The OSCE and the Council of Europe say this has created an atmosphere of impunity that hampers the proper conduct of future Armenian elections.
“Electoral violations during past elections have never been satisfactorily investigated and prosecuted,” a delegation of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly said at the end of a fact-finding visit to Yerevan late last week. “A climate of impunity for electoral violations and election related violence can not be allowed to exist in Armenia.”
A statement by the Office of the Prosecutor-General cited Hovsepian as saying that one of the ad hoc groups will investigate the most serious instances of reported fraud. Another team will oversee similar efforts by regional prosecutors and, if necessary, help them press charges against individuals involved in vote rigging, he said, adding that the prosecutors will operate in close collaboration with the police and the National Security Service.
“Taking into consideration the past experience, we have created a mechanism which we believe will make it easier to ensure an adequate legal evaluation of possible violations committed during the electoral process,” Hovsepian said, according to the statement.
The chief Armenian prosecutor further assured the OSCE observers that he is taking “all measures” to rule out his subordinates’ involvement in the election campaign and “political processes” in general.
The announced anti-fraud measures are bound to be shrugged off by the Armenian opposition. Opposition leaders have long claimed that the authorities do not tackle the problem because they themselves organize and benefit from falsifications.
Western governments, which are pressing hard for the freedom and fairness of the elections, seem less pessimistic on this score. “We don't expect perfection,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said last week in reference to the Armenian government’s handling of the vote. “We don't expect to go from deeply flawed to perfect, but we do expect to see substantial forward progress. That is important.”